Hazards from chemicals: scientific questions and conflicts of interest

Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Containing Papers of a Biological Character
A E McLean

Abstract

All substances are toxic when the dose is large enough. In order to regulate the use of chemicals, we need to measure the level at which toxic effects are found. Epidemiological evidence suggests that present levels of chemical use do not lead to widespread harmful contamination of the human environment. For chemicals, most of the problems of toxicity are found in the workplace, while the population at large gets most of its toxic effects from voluntary exposure to substances such as tobacco smoke and ethanol. The prevention and control of toxic effects depends on a series of steps. This begins with measurement of toxicity in model systems, such as laboratory animals, and the estimation of the likely exposure of workers or consumers. Reliable extrapolation of information gathered from animals to the diverse and biochemically differing human population depends on understanding mechanisms of toxic effects. The toxic effect and mechanisms of action of substances such as carbon tetrachloride or paracetamol have been extensively investigated, and our ability to predict toxicity or develop antidotes to poisoning has had some success, but epidemiology is still an essential part of assessment of toxic effects of new chemicals. The exam...Continue Reading

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